How to talk to your kids about Mass Shootings
by, Lisa Lovelace, PsyD, LP
Ways to talk to your kids about mass shootings and gun violence.
News alerts of another mass shooting mentioning several who lost their lives or were injured, not just physically but emotionally, are all too familiar. How we handle this as adults/parents and how we talk to our kids about mass shootings and gun violence is important.
First and foremost: Don’t ignore talking about it. Before us as adults, teachers, parents, grandparents, etc can talk to our young about such horrific events in the nation, we must find a way to come to grips with our own thoughts and feelings about mass shootings and gun violence. No matter your political views, we can all get behind the sadness of these senseless acts that happened to innocent victims.
So, how do you do come to grips with it? By noticing your reaction every time we get the news update alert that another tragedy happened. Do you feel sad and cry? Yell and scream? Go numb and turn the station or channel off? How do you feel? Worried and scared to go to a movie or concert? Fearful to let your kids go to school?
Knowing what you experience is step 1.
Step 2: TALK about it with your spouse/partner, friend, family member or clergy. Process your thoughts around these acts and what you believe. Find language for your feelings AND solutions to what is in your control. This will aid the conversation with a child or teen.
We cannot stop bad things from happening in the world, just like we can’t stop tornadoes or hurricanes. Being prepared and having safety plans is essential.
What to say to my kid(s)?
What you say depends on your child’s age and developmental abilities. You know your child best.
For very young children (ages 2-6) who may sense your mood, hear words on the tv like “gun” or “dead” as you watch while they play in the background – don’t underestimate the power of the “sponge” in young children. They soak up everything although they don’t know what it means. You can still talk to them about it very simply.
“Mommy just heard on the news that a bad person/tricky person, etc just did a really bad thing. But guess what, there were many good people and heroes that came to help. Who do you know that is a hero and helps people?”
Helping young children hear you talk in more black and white terms can be helpful for them to process what they heard or saw in your reaction.
For older children (ages 7-13) don’t ignore it. Most likely they already heard about the mass shooting from friends at school or on tv. They may not talk about it to you or initiate conversation. They may not even know about it at all – but this is an opportunity to question. Then, just listen and see what they know, feel, and think.
“Have you heard about anything in the news lately that is upsetting to you? Let’s talk about it. What have you heard? How do you feel about what you heard? What are you friends saying?”
Use their answers as a place to start. Stay calm. Stay engaged. We cannot stop bad things from happening in the world, just like we can’t stop tornadoes or hurricanes. Being prepared and having a safety plan is essential.
One thing that is extremely important is to let your child know that you do everything in your power to keep them safe. Talk with them about ways their school keeps them safe, seat belts keep us safe, house alarms keep us safe, etc.
Then, develop a safety plan. IF THIS – THEN THAT…
For our teens and young adults (age 14-20) don’t assume that they are handling this news ok because they are older – they may not show you what they are thinking and truly feeling. They’ve seen it and heard it. Friends are talking about it. Continue to ask about what they feel and what they think they can do about it. Help them find control. Talk about how you feel and what you are going to do about it. They are old enough to handle hearing about your emotions in a productive manner.
“How are you doing with the latest news about another mass shooting? What do you think about this? What are you feeling? I am feeling very sad AND this is what I am going to do about it…do you want to join me in xyz?”
In a world where we often feel like things happen to us out of the blue, it can cause anyone of any age a lot of fear and anxiety, sadness and angst that the world is a bad place, a fearful place to be.
AND…we need to find balance and re-shift our focus to all the good in the world that happens on an hourly basis that we don’t get news alerts for. Start to point these things out as you go about your day with your child of ANY age.
“Wow, look at that person helping the lady across the street, isn’t that kind?” or “I just saw on the news that a family rescued a dog that had no home, isn’t that wonderful that the dog is safe and loved?”
More good than bad happen in the world. In today’s twitter and social media grind, news alert tend to be plentiful and negative…we are inundated with fear, sadness. AND… more good than evil happens.
How we deal with our own emotions and reactions will help determine how we talk to our kids about tragedies. We can’t stop bad things from happening, but we can try to find solutions to ongoing problems in our government, communities, families…we only have control over what we can do like getting into activism or helping others less fortunate.
Model for your child(ren) what we do to cope and how to communicate our fears and worries. Know that statistically speaking, you/they won’t ever directly experience a mass shooting. Know that you will get through anything together as a family.
If you or someone you know is struggling with coping with ongoing tragedies and are experiencing a lot of anxiety, depression, or just need a place to process heavy emotions, please check out our incredible therapists with Synergy eTherapy.